Recently I saw a reference to C. S. Lewis’s “Transposition,” which I couldn’t recall. I found it in a collection of essays I have, C.S. Lewis The Weight of Glory. As I read I remembered a lot of it.
From the Introduction:
“Transposition” was preached in the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford–a Congregational institution–at the invitation of its Principal, Nathaniel Micklem (1888-1976), on the Feast of Pentecost, 28 May 1944. It was reported in The Daily Telegraph of 2 June 1944 under the heading “Modern Oxford’s Newman” that “in the middle of the sermon Mr. Lewis, under stress of emotion, stopped, saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ and left the pulpit. Dr. Micklem, the Principal, and the chaplain went to his assistance. After a hymn was sung, Mr. Lewis returned and finished his sermon…on a deeply moving note.”
Lewis has probably accomplished as much as any modern writer, both in his fiction and in his sermons, to make Heaven believable. My guess is that at sometime, but not necessarily in 1944, he may have felt that he had not succeeded as well as he might with “Transposition.” Though he was quite ill during the spring of 1961 when…his publisher…was pressing him to edit a volume of his essays, something wonderful happened. With a simplicity that is perhaps an instance of Heaven coming to its own rescue, Lewis was shown what glories are involved by the corruptible putting on incorruption, and there came from his pen an additional portion that raises that sermon to an eminence all its own.
That section is my favorite. I tried to write a brief synopsis, but it just left too much out. So I will share the beginning of that additional portion Lewis wrote later:
I believe that this doctrine of Transposition provides for most of us a background very much needed for the theological virtue of Hope. We can hope only for what we can desire. And the trouble is that any adult and philosophically respectable notion we can form of Heaven is forced to deny of that state most of the things our nature desires. There is no doubt a blessedly ingenuous faith, a child’s or a savage’s faith which finds no difficulty. It accepts without awkward questionings the harps and golden streets and the family reunions pictured by hymn writers. Such a faith is deceived, yet, in the deepest sense, not deceived, for while it errs in mistaking symbol for fact, yet it apprehends Heaven as joy and plenitude and love. But it is impossible for most of us. And we must not try, by artifice, to make ourselves more naif than we are. A man does not “become as a little child” by aping childhood. Hence our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.
Against all these, to be sure, we set one positive: the vision and enjoyment of God. And since this is an infinite good, we hold (rightly) that it outweighs them all. That is, the reality of the Beatific Vision would or will outweigh, would infinitely outweigh, the reality of the negations. But can our present notion of it outweigh our present notion of them? That is quite a different question. And for most of us at most times the answer is no……[T]he conception of that Vision is a difficult, precarious, and fugitive extrapolation from a very few and ambiguous moments in our earthly experience, while our idea of the negated natural goods is vivid and persistent, loaded with the memories of a lifetime, built into our nerves and muscles and therefore into our imaginations.
Thus the negatives have, so to speak, an unfair advantage in every competition with the positive. What is worse, their presence–and most when we most resolutely try to suppress or ignore them–vitiates even such a faint and ghostlike notion of the positive as we might have had. The exclusion of the lower goods begins to seem the essential characteristic of the higher good. We feel, if we do not say, that the vision of God will come not to fulfill but to destroy our nature; this bleak fantasy often underlies our very use of such words as “holy” or “pure” or “spiritual.”
We must not allow this to happen if we can possibly prevent it. We must believe–and therefore in some degree imagine–that every negation will be only the reverse side of a fulfilling. And we must mean by that the fulfilling, precisely, of our humanity, not our transformation into angels nor our absorption into Deity. For though we shall be “as the angels” and made “like unto” our Master, I think this means “like with the lines proper to men” as different instruments that play the same air but each in its own fashion. How far the life of the risen man will be sensory, we do not know. But I surmise that it will differ from the sensory life we know here, not as emptiness differs from water or water from wine but as a flower differs from a bulb or a cathedral from an architect’s drawing. And it is here that Transposition helps me.
And his illustration is wonderful. Read it all free here.